This week, PreventObesity.net chatted with Ronnette Ballard, a licensed clinical psychologist, health professional, mother and PreventObesity.net Leader. Find out more about how Ronnette practices healthy eating and habits both at work and at home, as a role model, and for herself. Connect with Ronnette through her PreventObesity.net Leader profile here.
Name: Ronnette P. Ballard, Psy.D.
Title: Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Founder/Owner
Organization: InSight Psychology and Behavioral Health Services LLC
What inspired you to start working on childhood obesity?
My inspiration stems from my multiple roles as mother, health professional and community participant. I want my children, and all children, to be proactive in maintaining good health throughout their lives. Recognizing the negative impact of obesity on both mental and physical health, I was compelled to take action so that parents and kids can make choices that improve the quality of their lives.
How do you encourage healthy lifestyles at home?
I lead by example! I maintain a healthy body weight, eat healthy and stay active. In my home, I ensure that food choices, especially snacks, reflect a range of healthy options. Fruit, vegetables, edamame, air popped popcorn and other highly nutritious snacks are readily available and strongly encouraged. I do allow some chips and baked goods but I educate my kids on the benefits of choosing the healthier alternatives. The result is kids who have learned to “diversify” their snacking so they enjoy the benefits of healthy snacks and don’t feel deprived of the less nutritious alternatives. And dinner? Well, let’s just say green veggies, healthy proteins (lean meat, fish and poultry) and healthy grains get combined in ways that satisfy even the pickiest of our bunch.
The other key ingredient to helping my own kids maintain healthy weight/BMI is to encourage and engage them in fun physical activity. From early on my kids have been active in various sports―with an emphasis on having fun. And again, I lead by example, doing my best to serve as a positive role model who enjoys rather than dreads exercise. I invite them to workout with me and occasionally tell them outright to “get off the couch and do something!” I do let them know that sometimes physical activity can be tough, not fun.
How are you helping to reverse childhood obesity?
As a psychologist and wellness professional, I recognize the important role that parents play in shaping the patterns that children adopt. I work to help parents recognize that many times childhood obesity is the result of an even larger family system problem or even a psychological problem that must be addressed before the weight management can begin. For example, an overly stressed mom or dad may not recognize that the pattern of “picking up dinner” may reduce stress (anxiety) in the short term (e.g., kids are happy, parent is relieved) but create long term problems (e.g., family weight problems, poor nutrition). Though a simple example, this type of pattern frequently gets established early-on in parenting then sticks like glue.
As part of the intervention process, I educate kids, teens and adults on the unproductive patterns that can develop, explore the reasons for those patterns and relate the consequences of those patterns to their current physical and mental health. For those who are ready to move forward, I offer behavior change plans to help break patterns that lead to obesity. Behavior plans typically have easy, attainable, sustainable goals such as “replace soda with water (or even sparkling water- no calories/additives) for 2 meals per week.” Once goals are reached, new goals are added, and over time a healthier kid and family emerge.
We as a society tend to overlook or downplay the impact obesity has on a child’s self concept. But professionals and a growing number of concerned citizens recognize the negative consequences of childhood obesity. Obese children are at increased risk for bullying, low self esteem, exclusion from peer groups and a number of other social problems. In my efforts to improve the mental and physical health of families, I help parents to recognize that they are their child’s “first teacher” and as such what they do or say will have a profound and lasting impact.
What’s your biggest accomplishment so far in helping reduce childhood obesity?
Aside from helping my own kids to stay healthy, my biggest accomplishment in helping to reduce childhood obesity is the development of the “Move Your Body, Reshape Your Mind” workshop. The workshop is interactive and provides opportunities for kids and parents to engage in fun activities while learning about the physical and mental impact of obesity on kids and families.
The program was first presented in an abridged format at the Central Texas African American Family Support Conference in February of 2013. During that presentation participants exercised a bit, laughed and learned about the impact of obesity and lack of physical activity on mood. I emphasized the fact that numerous studies have revealed exercise to be just as effective in treating mild to moderate depression as antidepressant medication.
Who is your role model in your work?
I don’t have a single role model. I admire and pattern myself after people who live clean, keep trying and strive for their personal best.
What healthy snacks did you enjoy growing up?
As a kid, my healthy-snack-of-choice was blackberries picked right off the bush. Strawberries were a close second and I didn’t have to fight through the thorns to get at them.
Each week, our own Prarthana Gurung speaks with a Leader to get a quick look at why he or she loves working to create healthy environments for kids. Want to take part? Visit Prarthana’s profile and contact her.